This year, Alaska got the OK to start judging schools using its own measurements instead of the standards required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. But with new metrics come new — and more difficult — tests, and state officials are expecting to see student performance and school ratings fall as a result. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
It’s rare for standardized tests to get any love. Most kids hate taking them. It’s not uncommon to hear teachers and education experts say you can’t get a real sense of how much students learned in a year from a few hours of filling out bubbles. In the spring of 2015, expect a whole new complaint: that for the past decade, Alaska’s assessment tests have been telling us that our kids are smarter than they really are.
Rep. Lynn Gattis, a Wasilla Republican, was less than thrilled when she heard this from Deputy Education Commissioner Les Morse at a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
GATTIS: But next year, my child — still the same kid, still the same reader — could very well fall way down below because of our new standards?
MORSE: That is potentially possible.
That year, the current “Standards Based Assessments” will be replaced with something new, and that something will almost certainly be more challenging.
The state committed to adopting a new test when it decided to implement Alaska-specific standards. The Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) also supported moving to a harder test because they felt the current one had a sort of inflationary effect. More than half of Alaska students entering the university system need remediation, and employers have told the agency that graduates from the state’s public high schools weren’t prepared for the workforce.
But the anticipation of a drop in performance has left some legislators with heartburn.
“I could have been doing summer school, I could have been doing tutoring. And I’ve lost two years that I can’t back,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, of the plight some students might face.
Wilson expressed disappointment that students were going to see lower scores even if they were learning at the same rate. She also wanted to know if the state could just grade students on a harder curve before the new assessments were adopted.
WILSON: If we knew right now, even before the new test began, that proficient meant reading at grade level or doing math at grade level — even if it dropped a little bit for my student, knowing that they’re on grade level, which right now you’re saying we don’t know if proficient and grade level are interchangeable — why would we wait another two years for our newest testing when we could change those cut scores tomorrow if we wanted to?
But it’s not as simple as that, responded Deputy Commissioner Morse. First of all, the state would have to go through a long vetting process to make sure that adjusting the scores was appropriate. By the time that would be complete, schools would already be using the new test.
Morse said even if the state could change the rating scale, it would be like comparing apples to oranges. The problem isn’t with the test: It’s that more is being expected out of students.
“You could take the current assessment, but it’s an assessment of some other standards. And you could say, we’re going to raise the bar, but it’s really technically hard to say, here’s how much harder it should be on this easier test,” said Hanley. It’s technically kind of hard to do that and say it gives you a new, honest picture, because it doesn’t. You just actually told them here’s how you score if we raise the cut score on an easier test than what you’re going to face in the future.”
What students will face in the future has yet to be determined. DEED is pilot testing what’s called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which about half the states in the country could implement in the next couple of years. But the state is also still considering the more expensive option of creating its own test. DEED would like to have a new test selected by the end of the academic calendar.
“We’re not wedded to anything yet,” said Education Commissioner Mike Hanley, in a phone interview.
Hanley reiterated his deputy’s statement that curving this year’s test as a stop-gap measure wouldn’t work. He also described the currents calls for changing the scoring “ironic,” noting that the legislature had a “significant say in the cut score” and had previously pushed for a gentler grading system out of concern that not enough students were achieving proficiency.
Hanley added that there are things that can be done to lessen the impact of the new scoring system in the interim. Right now, DEED is reaching out to school districts to discuss how to best implement the new standards. And Hanley recommended that parents ask schools what students can do to meet those standards, instead of just relying on their test results this year.
“The flaw is not that we’re going to see a drop in scores,” said Hanley. “The flaw is that we haven’t been totally honest with our students at this point. It’s time to correct that.”
One rarely thinks of strawberries in connection with our state, but Palmer producer Arthur Keyes realized the potential for growing the sweet berries on his farm years ago.
”There’s about eight thousand strawberry plants, and I think this is our fourth or fifth year now producing strawberries.”
Now this summer’s strawberry crop is being harvested. I pick a ripe one from a plant loaded with them
”..yeah, it’s like eating an apple”… “OMG.. look at the size of it, and it doesn’t get all hollow in the center.”
The berries are huge – and delicious.
”I’m producing on about three acres here. It’s pretty intense. I have about fifteen employees on this three acres. [when] You get into the bigger farms, you are going to see twenty or thirty employees working on those farms. And they are using mechanized harvesting. Everything we do here is by hand. “
Keyes says Alaska’s long summer days, and unusual soil, combine to make his berries not only larger, but juicier and sweeter than berries grown in California. Keyes gestures toward another acre, this one planted with onions
“I call em Yensis sweet onions. YENSIS. And I get that word, because this is the only place in the world.. this Palmer region.. that has yensis soil. And it’s a silt soil derived from the glaciers that we have. Off the Matanuska glacier and the Eklutna glacier. It’s a combination.”
It’s the Yensis soil that gives Palmer vegetables their sweet juicyness compared with vegetables imported from outside.
” Our Alaskan carrots, up to eight times sweeter than a California carrot. Strawberries, potatoes, name a crop and it’s going to to be sweeter.. Broccoli…anyone like Alaska brocsoli?” “Yeah!” ” I mean, is there any other broccoli you would rather eat? No. So these crops during our long days are developing carbs all day long and then we get a cool night, because of our latitude, we get these cool nights that come in and those carbs convert to sugars. And then you end up at the end of the season with these crops that are phenomenal.”
Keyes Glacier Valley Farm was the first stop on a farm tour organized by Representative Bill Stoltz, a Republican from Chugiak, who is urging state lawmakers to recognize Alaska’s agricultural potential.
Agriculture has long been a low priority for the legislature . Stoltze wants to remedy that. (Stoltze) *He* sponsored House Resolution #1 which creates an Alaska Food Resource Working Group. The move got gubernatorial approval to develop state policies aimed at increasing the purchase and consumption of Alaska grown products.
“We got the ball in the air on elevating agricultural issues and food issues to the cabinet level.”
The farm tour introduced lawmakers and department commissioners to Alaska produce literally from the ground up.
A USDA agricultural census last year puts total receipts from state agriculture from 2011 at 31.7 million dollars. No threat to big oil, but, then, there’s no real comparison. You can’t eat oil. Food security is a growing issue in Alaska. Stoltze warns that if transportation to our state was interrupted by a national disaster, Alaskans would have only a few weeks supply on hand.
“We have a lot more capacity, especially on the cold root vegetables, potatoes and carrots, to grow a lot more of our own.”
Few farmers in the Valley mass market their produce. One who does is Paul Huppert, who sells at four major supermarket chains [ Carr's WalMart, Fred Meyer, Three Bears ] and to restaurants and the military under the Gold Nugget and Palmer Produce brands. Huppert has a warehouse near Palmer, where semi trucks haul away boxes of lettuce, kale, carrots and broccoli destined for other areas of the state. Getting produce to markets far away in top condition starts with cooling, he says, pointing to a huge machine near the door
”If you folks don’t know what it is, it’s a vacuum cooler. For years and years and years they tried every way in the world to ship lettuce, head lettuce, leaf lettuce and stuff like that to the East Coast, because we had the field heat, we never took it out. That machine, we can fit 150 cases of headlettuce in it. “
Huppert says one of the big problems for growers is a labor shortage. But one of the perks – pesticides are not needed in Alaska because our state’s isolation keeps pests out. Huppert says agricultural land should be kept that way.. by law.
“It’s not like we need it today or tomorrow, but we are going to need it in the future, and that’s all there is to it. You know, it’s kind of selfish to think we need to use it all today.”
Legislator Stoltze says consumers have the power to demand more Alaska products in local stores, then retailers will comply.
”My resolution is not a mandate, it’s a roadmap of how we can do better for agriculture in Alaska. “
Stoltze says it’s time state agencies helped to do that.
The United States Sixth Fleet is sailing in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Fifth Fleet is in nearby Bahrain. The Pentagon is mobilizing forces for long-range bombings or cruise missile strikes.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the U.S. government is holding the government of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the chemical attack last week.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children, and innocent bystanders by chemical weddings, is a moral obscenity,” he said in the State Department briefing room. “By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”
President Barack Obama has long said a chemical attack would be a red line. This is reportedly the second such attack, but much larger than the previous.
U.S. Senator Mark Begich said he’s skeptical of engaging.
“They cannot go down this path without consultation and engagement with the Congress,” he said Tuesday on the public radio program “Talk of Alaska.”
But that may happen. Strikes could begin any day – and Congress is not due back in Washington until September 9th. Begich said he can’t support the actions if the United States acts alone.
British and French leaders have indicated they’re willing to support the military strikes.
“It can’t be the U.S. carrying the weight of the world all the time. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others in that region need to step up to the plate,” Begich said. “It means other countries around the globe, and this includes people like Russia and China, they need to step up, and quit playing the politics of the Middle East for leverage for their own political and economic purposes.”
Russia and China will not side with the United States in the conflict. Russia has proven to be Syria’s largest backer. Both Moscow and Beijing are protecting Damascus on the United Nations Security Council.
Neither of the Republicans in the delegation would talk about the issue. A spokesman for Representative Don Young said he’s opposed to military intervention – that the country isn’t ready for another war after fighting two for a dozen years. He also wants the president to seek approval from Congress. Young voted for the 2002 Iraq War Resolution.
Senator Lisa Murkowski declined several requests for comment.
Students are returning to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus for classes beginning this week. But this will be the last year they will have the opportunity to seek career advice from staff. The office of Career Services will close in December 2014 as part of what the University calls a “budgetary pullback.” UAF Spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says the closure will save 270 thousand dollars.
The number of immigrant, refugee and other students who need help with English is growing parts of Anchorage, but the school district is spread thin because of last year’s cuts and they don’t have the money to hire any new teachers or tutors.
The stories in this series were produced through a fellowship from the Institute for Justice & Journalism.
This fall, Nester Cunanan entered Mears Middle School in South Anchorage with the odds stacked against him.
“I learned English from the TV and watching Disney Channel. Yeah, I watched American movies a lot.”
Cunanan is what the Anchorage School District calls an ‘English Language Learner’, or ELL student. Today, the round-faced 8th grader with an easy smile, is registering for classes in the Mears gym. He just moved to Anchorage from the Philippines. He says his favorite subject is Science.
I’m hoping to try to dissect a frog, cause I haven’t dissected a frog yet.
In order to succeed in science classes, Cunanan will have to pickup an array of special, subject specific words that he likely didn’t pick up while watching American movies in the Philippines. It’s a steep learning curve. The graduation rate for ELL seniors has been stuck between 40 and 50 percent for years. And, unless something changes soon, the district’s goal to have a 90 percent graduation rate for all students by 2020 seems unlikely. Cunanan is on target to graduate with the class of 2018. He seems to speak well, but then this happens.
“I forgot the word …”
That’s typical says ELL Tutor Pam Strickland. And she says language isn’t the only thing the kids need to learn.
“The kids don’t know how the system works. You know, they need to know that you have to raise your hand or you know different cultural things that they bring that they need to know the difference here – and how the classroom runs. And then trying to help them understand make the connections between the vocabulary. A lot of subject matter will translate easily, like Math – the symbols are the same, but just translating the vocabulary. And then learning to fit in.”
Strickland, who bounces between Mears and nearby Goldenview is the only ELL tutor for both schools. She says that the number of students that she works with has tripled over the past few years, but the district hasn’t hired any more help. And that worries her.
“I think hiring more people would be a quick solution. If we’re gonna say we’re gonna service English Language Students, then I think that has to be what we’re doing and it’s hard to do when you have 80 students.”
It’s a problem that Phil Farson, who runs the English Language Learner Program for the Anchorage School District, is well aware of. He says the ELL population is shifting, growing in outlying areas.
“We’re seeing a gradual shift of ELL students into the Southern parts of the city. And schools that in the past that traditionally, very few or no ELL students are finding that they have 20, 30, 40 kids.”
But because of 25 million dollars in budget cuts last school year, Farson says he’s stretched so thin that he can’t hire additional staff and stay within budget. No ELL teachers were cut last year, but tutors were.
“Our overall budget allocation for this coming school year is substantially less than it was the previous year. In fact, all together, the equivalent of about 10 positions were lost in terms of what we call our para-professionals, or our tutors.”
That leaves less staff for more kids — about 100 tutors for around 56-hundred ELL students in the district.
Back at Mears, Valerie Davidson is registering her daughter, Kylie. Her daughter is Yup’ik, and she speaks English well. But Davidson is passionate about the importance of providing support for ELL students. She makes her point by asking me a question in Yup’ik:
“You ready? Yup’ik question … wow, so since you didn’t answer, I’m afraid that you’re not going to be able to be in the advanced classes. And you’re not going to be able to get the most out of your education because I just asked you if you understood. And since you didn’t respond, you’re just not going to advance with the rest of the kids.”
Davidson says having enough English language teachers and tutors is critical to insuring that every student gets an equal chance at an education. Back on the other side of the gym, Cunanan says he’s excited to start school, but you can hear some uncertainty in his voice.
“Yeah, cause I guess I’ll have new friends here and a new experience.”
Cunnanan says he hopes to graduate from high school, go to college and maybe become a scientist. Administrators says that they anticipate additional budget cuts this school year, no word yet on whether programs for English Language Learners will be included.
The Tlingit-Haida Central Council’s Head Start program serves more than 250 Southeast Alaska preschoolers. But they’ll have less time in the classroom this year due to budget cuts tied to sequestration. We took a this look at the program and the impacts of lower funding.Head Start program, run by Tlingit-Haida Central Council, for years.
“My first little girl craved socialization. We couldn’t give her enough of it and so for her I thought it would be a real good place to get to socialize,” she says.
Guthrie started taking her daughter just two days a week. Soon, both of them, and later, the other Guthrie kids, became regulars.
“You were encouraged to come in and sit down and hang out if you wanted to all day, encouraged to come to lunch, and bring your other younger kids, and sit and have lunch and socialize and hang out. So I really liked that aspect,” Guthrie says.
Family contact is a key part of Head Start, a federal preschool education and screening program that began in the mid-‘60s. Along with working with kids, it helps parents learn more about caring for young children, and preparing them for school.
But there will be less of that this year.
Sequestration’s across-the-board, 5.3 percent cut means Tlingit-Haida’s Head Start programs will begin three weeks late.
That affects about 260 children at 15 centers in nine cities: Angoon, Craig, Klawock, Saxman, Hoonah, Petersburg, Wrangell, Juneau and Sitka.
Haines, Kake, Hydaburg and Ketchikan also have Head Start classrooms. They’re run by the Anchorage-based Rural Alaska Community Action Program. Officials could not be reached by our deadline for comment on how they’re handling the budget cuts.
Former Tlingit-Haida Head Start teacher Karen McCullough of Petersburg supervises the council’s program in southern Southeast.
“All the research has shown that socializing children, getting them used to routines, getting them used to playing with other children, and relating with other adults … increases their language base, (which) really helps children when they enter into the public school system,” McCullough says.
Head Start also provides preschoolers with breakfast and lunch, and teaches them basic hygiene, such as brushing their teeth.
Some don’t get that at home.
Tlingit-Haida Regional Program Director Albert Rinehart says staffers are also trained to spot physical or behavioral problems best addressed at an early age.
“We help identify any potential issues that might hold them up later on with their schooling – hearing tests, eye tests and other, more severe types of disabilities,” Rinehart says.
The budget cuts will reduce classroom days by close to 10 percent. It will also lower hours – and pay – for Tlingit-Haida 55 staffers.
Tlingit-Haida Head Start usually begins classes in early September, about the same time older children head to school. McCullough says the three-week delay could force some parents to choose another place.
“There are also other preschool programs and parents who are looking for places for children start to worry when school starts up in the fall. And so, Head Start may not be their first consideration because of that,” McCullough says.
As a tribal program, Tlingit-Haida Head Start gives a preference for Native preschoolers. It also favors low-income children, though others, such as the Guthries, still get in.
Rinehart says he polled staff about the best way to address the budget cut.
“We provided options from a shorter work week to ending the school year earlier or starting the next school year later. And our survey overwhelmingly showed support for a later start-up,” Rinehart says.
Officials say flat funding doesn’t keep up with inflation. A number of grants are no longer available, and that’s hurt the program too.
Back at the Guthrie house, Savann is thinking about sequestration’s impacts.
“Any time you’re cutting the money, who you’re really hurting are the people and the families and the kids who need it the most,” she says.
Her husband and children are Tlingit and Tsimshian and she says her family has enjoyed the cultural aspects of the program.
And she encourages other parents to think about joining too.
“It doesn’t matter what your race is and where you come from, it’s a great place for kids. And it’s a great place for them to learn basic skills from brushing their teeth to how to say please and thank you. It’s a great experience and the staff does a really good job,” she says.
Tlingit-Haida Head Start classrooms open for students on Sept. 23.
State officials say they’ll withdraw funding for a $15 million Hoonah dock unless the Southeast city changes its location.
The money was appropriated by the Legislature, in part to support the town’s Icy Strait Point tourist attraction, 40 air miles west of Juneau.
Community and Regional Affairs Director Scott Ruby sent a letter earlier this month threatening to take away the grant. He also put a hold on any project spending.
He says it’s because the cruise industry doesn’t like the dock’s location.
“The primary use was going to be a cruise ship dock. But also, when it’s not being used for a cruise ship dock, it would be constructed such that it could be used for other purposes (such as) freight and ferries and whatever. It’s a multi-use dock.”
Two other proposed locations are acceptable to the industry.
Hoonah City Administrator Bob Prunella says officials won’t comment until they meet with the state. That’s scheduled to happen Thursday.
Sitka’s Bert Stedman represents Hoonah in the Senate. He says local leaders need to decide whether to move ahead.
“I think it’s a good idea for Hoonah to have a dock. But you need to build facilities that will help the industry prosper and move forward with the community.”
Hoonah has about two weeks to respond to the state. Officials will then decide whether to block funding.
The original legislative grant was for $17 million. Lawmakers last spring diverted $2 million to a clinic project approved by Hoonah leaders.
Stedman diverted another $5 million to a swimming pool at the state’s Mount Edgecumbe boarding high school in Sitka. Governor Sean Parnell vetoed that provision, saying the money should stay in Hoonah.
The very word “Alaska” is synonymous with wintery snow and ice although on one Palmer farm, the sweet taste of summer can be found in an acre of plump, big -as- your -fist strawberries that are destined for sale at farmer’s markets. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, a recent tour of Matanuska Valley farms is helping state legislators get in touch with Alaska’s agricultural potential.
Political, business and tribal leaders from the Bristol Bay region welcomed the new EPA Administrator to Dillingham Tuesday. They called on the EPA to step in and stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine. KDLG’s Mike Mason has the story.
Listen to full meeting audio at KDLG.org
The 78-foot sunken fishing tender Lone Star is still stuck in the mud in the Igushik River as responders try and figure out a new way to recover the vessel. The vessel grounded on June 30th while taking fish from the local fishermen for processing by Trident Seafoods. It began taking on water and eventually capsized in about 18-feet of water. It’s been sitting on the bottom of the Igushik River since that time and it looks like it will stay there for a little longer as responders try and figure out a way to get the vessel unstuck from the mud. Petty Officer Shawn Eggert is a spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, which is monitoring the recovery effort.
A worldwide environmental conservation group is becoming more involved in the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. This summer, contractors working under the Alaska Energy Authority have been conducting 58 studies to assess the environmental impact of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project. The Nature Conservancy, which operates in 35 countries and across the entire United States, has hired a consultant to review the data that the studies produce and generate and independent assessment of some of the environmental risks.
AEA says that the proposed dam would generate enough power to fill the needs of half of the Railbelt’s current consumers at a cost of $5.19 billion dollars. Some opponents of the dam claim that environmental impacts would outweigh the benefit of what would be one of the tallest dams in America. The Nature Conservancy plans to conduct an independent evaluation of the study data to see how significant the environmental impacts will be on one of Southcentral Alaska’s key industries.
“For the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project, we want to use that framework to look at what are the risks for salmon, in particular salmon habitat, if that project were to be built”
That’s Corinne Smith. She oversees the Nature Conservancy’s efforts in the Mat-Su Basin. To sift through the large amount of fishery data, the Conservancy has brought in Anchor QEA, a nationwide engineering and environmental consulting firm with offices in Anchorage. Smith says that the data currently being gathered could prove useful in determining the potential impact of the Susitna-Watana dam as well as future hydroelectric projects.
“If we were to build a big dam on any large river, like the Susitna, in the state, we would use the Susitna as a case study because there is so much information about that particular river, and there will be in the next two years, after AEA’s studies.”
That wealth of data will include information on the spawning areas and run strength of area salmon as well as potential impacts on their habitat, such as water flow rate, silt accumulation, vegetation, and changes in how the river freezes. The determinations that The Nature Conservancy and Anchor QEA reach are not purely for their own use, however, and Smith hopes that others will find the data helpful.
“Our goal is also to provide information for other stakeholders in the process–to have a clear framework for how to assess the impacts from the study. That’s a lot of information. It’s a little unclear, yet, how it all flows together. We’re taking just one piece of it, and that’s salmon salmon. Obviously there are a lot of other potential impacts from the dam, and we’re just looking at the salmon piece of it.”
Smith says that The Nature Conservancy plans to keep in line with AEA’s study timeframe, and expects to reach some conclusions by the end of 2014.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium plans to close Front Street Clinic on October 1, according to SEARHC COO Dan Neumeister. The decision by the board of directors comes after two days of meetings last week.
Neumeister says deciding to close the clinic geared for homeless and low-income patients was difficult. He cites budgetary constraints, including sequestration.
Dan Austin with the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness says he’s not surprised with SEARHC’s decision.
“I think we have reached a point where we need to make that transition. I believe that for 10 years, SEARHC has done a wonderful service for the community, but we need to find an alternative.”
According to Neumeister, Front Street Clinic costs about $600,000 a year to operate. $160,000 of that comes from a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant. The remaining more than $400,000, he says, comes from SEARHC. Neumeister says SEARHC makes that money through billings at its facilities.
The HRSA grant went into effect May 1 and is good for one year. Neumeister does not know how much, if any, of the $160,000 remains, but says he is working with the federal agency on how leftover funds can be re-designated.
Neumeister plans to hold a meeting in Juneau Tuesday to facilitate discussions on how the clinic can stay open. Neumeister did not identify who would be at the meeting but the city and borough of Juneau and the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness confirm they will have representatives present.
Dan Austin with the Coalition is optimistic that the community will find a solution.
“The big issue is going to be, in the event that the HRSA grant cannot keep the doors open at Front Street Clinic, where can we go to find some additional resources? That’s a big challenge in this time, but this is a community that can step up to the plate and do that.”
Neumeister says SEARHC remains committed to taking care of Alaska Native homeless. The responsibility of the general public, says Neumeister, needs to go back to the general public. He says Juneau has other organizations responsible for the homeless.
Neumeister also plans on meeting with Front Street Clinic staff today.
The Board of Directors for Buccaneer Energy has a new look again, just weeks after an attempt to overtake the Board by two Singapore-based investment companies was only partially successful.
In a press release, the company announced three of the six Board members resigned effective August 14th. Nicholas Davies, Clinton Adams and Shaun Scott had only been on the Board since July 2nd, when they were nominated by Pacific Hill International and Harbour Sun Limited, both based in Singapore. Those two companies hold approximately five and a half percent of the Buccaneer’s issued capital funds.
The Board split earlier this summer was about Buccaneer’s future plans for the jack-up rig Endeavour. The Singapore faction felt the focus should narrow to onshore development of natural gas, while the rest of the Board, which includes Buccaneer founder and CEO Curtis Burton and executive chairmen Dean Gallegos supported using Endeavour in Cook Inlet.
Now, Buccaneer will enlist the help of a search firm to find a new Board member. It will also have to work out another Board appointee with yet another investment firm. Meridian Capital, which has an almost twenty percent interest in Buccaneer, gets to appoint its own nominee as part of the deal it signed back in June.
That Buccaneer’s board is in a prolonged game of musical chairs should be of interest to Alaska taxpayers. They’re one of the company’s partners by way of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. AIDEA has invested more than $23 million into Kenai Offshore Ventures, which co-owns Endeauvour with Buccaneer and another investment company, Ezion, which took a 50% interest in Kenai Offshore Ventures when it signed on in 2011.
The original Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bethel was totaled by a fire early Sunday morning. The structure still remains but the inside is blackened. The emergency call came into the police and fire departments at about 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 25. The caller said the outside of the building was burning.
The fire department worked on putting out the fire for about 3 and half hours.
The old church was built in 1943-44 and was used for about 12 years until a new church was built. At that point, the old church became the parish hall. About 16 years ago, a third Catholic Church was built. The second one became the new social hall and the oldest one was used for things like AA meetings.
A few years ago, it became the rummage room where the church would sell donated items for next to nothing. The church made about $7,000 a year on those sales. They say it was more about providing a service to the public. They plan to continue to hold rummage sales once they figure out a new location.
The old church building was insured.
Volunteers from Petersburg were not able to free a humpback whale tangled up in a gillnet near Petersburg on Friday and Saturday.
Members of Petersburg’s whale entanglement team Friday morning responded to the call of a whale caught in a gillnet in Frederick Sound. Petersburg Marine Mammal Center president and team member Barry Bracken said he and other volunteers boated out to the tangled whale, caught in gear still connected to the fishing boat around 11 a.m. Friday just north of Sukoi Island. That’s more than five miles north of Petersburg.
“We worked with the whale attached to the boat for a couple of hours,” Bracken said. “We were not making much headway with it. The whale at one point had swept under the boat and so we had the gillnet gear wrapped around the prop shaft so the boat was immobilized. We decided at that point it probably would be better to cut the whale free and try to work at it on it as a free swimming whale and allow the vessel with escort to return to Petersburg.”
Photo courtesy of Don Holmes
The entanglement team kept trying to cut the gear loose for several more hours Friday but were unable to free the animal. Instead they attached a buoy and tracking device, allowing them to find the whale again Saturday morning. By that point, the humpback had passed by Cape Fanshaw headed north in Frederick Sound.
Bracken described it as a large adult humpback with what looks like two wraps of lead-line from the gillnet. “It looks like those go back underneath the pectoral fins to a large mass of gear below the fluke,” he said. “The fluke is relatively clear, the blowhole itself is clear, there’s not much netting on the back of the animal, but it appears that there’s a very large mass of combined corkline, leadline and web that is just below the fluke so he can’t even raise his tail up out of the water and really can’t raise it close enough for us to get any kind of purchase on that.”
The North Pacific Large Whale Disentanglement Network, which includes the local team members, is tracking the whale. Local volunteers may try again to free the whale Wednesday if weather conditions are better and the animal has not travelled too far away from Petersburg. Otherwise it could be up to a disentanglement team from elsewhere in Southeast to try.
Frederick Sound has seen expanded fishing area for gillnetters this year due to strong returns of salmon, although the entanglement did not happen in the expanded fishing area near Mitkof Island. Boaters have also been reporting an unusually large number of humpbacks in local waters.
Bracken said this is the first response for the local entanglement team this year. “We were a little bit nervous when the expanded area was opened in Frederick Sound and we’d had more whales in the in the area than we’ve had for a number of years and so we’ve been kinda been keeping our fingers crossed that we’d make it though the season, not only for the sake of the whales but also the sake of the fishermen because it’s certainly no fun for them to have that level of involvement and the loss of fishing time and the destruction of gear and everything that goes with it. So we were really keeping our fingers crossed that it was gonna work out but unfortunately these things happen.”
Bracken notes the entanglement was documented by the National Marine Fisheries Service observer program. That program is in its second year of cataloging the gillnet fleet and interactions with marine mammals around Petersburg and Wrangell.
A multi-day totem-raising celebration is taking place in Klawock. Here’s KRBD’s Sean Carlson, who called in from Prince of Wales Island Friday with a quick report with KRBD’s Leila Kheiry.
Karen Olson, who managed the Matanuska Creamery in Palmer, has been charged with defrauding the state of Alaska and with making false statements to the federal Department of Agriculture. Olson faces six counts in all.
The charges stem from 2008, when Olson, CEO and a part owner of Valley Dairy, illegally obtained a 430 thousand dollar loan from the state’s division of agriculture. The charges indicate that Olson used the loan to conceal Valley Dairy’s financial losses, and that she made false statements to the US Department of Agriculture in order to receive federal grants.
Federal prosecutor Retta Randall says Olson’s scheme aimed at covering up illegal conduct on the part of her business partner
“Once she realized the economic situation of the Valley Dairy, she was made the chief executive officer of the Valley Dairy and authorized to pursue loans with the state of Alaska. What our investigation revealed is that she allegedly filed false documents by fax and by email and by mail to get the state of Alaska loans.”
Olsen is charged with concealing the criminal activities of Kyle Beus [BEE yoose], co owner and president of Valley Dairy. Beus is currently under indictment himself for using USDA grant money for his personal use, and for submitting false statements to the USDA regarding two federal grants awarded him in 2007 and 2008 to start a cheese and ice cream manufacturing facility in the Matanuska Valley. Retta Randall
“She provided documents to USDA. Those documents were also false, but she was able to get the USDA to consent to give over to the state the primary interest in the equipment. And that’s what caused the state then to authorize the loans. So the underlying allegations are based on false documents, concealing the criminal conduct of Mr. Beus, and then getting loans from the state of Alaska and having the USDA give up it’s interest in the dairy, for the Valley Dairy to be able to get those loans. “
Beus is awaiting trial. Federal prosecutors say that Olson could face a one million dollar fine or a total sentence of 30 years in prison.
Cori Mills, a state assistant attorney general in Juneau, says it is not clear at this time what action the state will take against Olson
“It’s all confidential and will all be done internally. And if and when that decision is made, then it will be made public. But at this point, there is no decision on pressing charges.”
The Matanuska Creamery shut down in December of last year, due to financial issues. The company owed the state almost 900 thousand dollars when it closed. The state recalled it’s agricultural loan to Valley Dairy in August of last year after the Creamery defaulted on the debt. The state acquired the Creamery’s assets and auctioned them off earlier this year.
The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency is making a field trip to Alaska this week. Gina McCarthy says this trip is not about regulation, but about learning and tribal consultation. She’ll be going to Fairbanks and Bristol Bay, but she started her trip at the site of a receding glacier.
Hays Research Group asked 388 likely primary voters their opinions of a possible 2014 ballot initiative that would prohibit the Pebble Mine. More than 60% said they favor the measure. Some two-thirds of that group strongly support it.
“Favorability was shared across all parties,” reported pollster Adam Hays. “Democrats, Republicans, as well as people who identified as moderate or in the middle.”
Hays said he was not paid by any group to conduct the poll.
This is the highest level of support for the ballot initiative ever. A “clean water” initiative that would have banned the mine failed in 2008 56 to 44%.
Hays said Alaskans support development projects but oppose this specific one.
The poll shows that more than 70% of Alaskans want the gubernatorial candidates to weigh-in on the ballot measure. Governor Sean Parnell has urged the EPA not to rule out the mine before the Pebble Partnership submits its application.
The United States Arctic Research Commission convened at Unalaska’s Grand Aleutian Hotel today. The independent agency is made up of eight commissioners with diverse backgrounds in fisheries, science, and education.
Their charge is to help the federal government develop a game plan for conducting research in the Arctic. The commission will talk about their research plans this week. But their focus is going to be on implementing a new, national Arctic strategy plan released by the Coast Guard in May.
That plan laid out three extremely broad goals for Arctic development — preserving peace in the region, conserving the natural environment, and finding a way to work with non-Arctic countries and organizations that want to get in on development.
Brendan Kelly is a polar science director for the White House. Over the past year, that job has taken him throughout rural Alaska and now, to Unalaska. Kelly’s been talking to residents about the Arctic strategy plan.
“There’s a lot of very smart people with a lot of experience — whether it’s shipping or fishing or the science of climate,” Kelly says. “There’s a lot of expertise here in the state. We’re really just trying to make sure that we benefit from that expertise.”
Kelly says he’ll be using the testimony to help find holes in the strategy — things that the federal agencies missed or underestimated when they wrote it.
On Tuesday afternoon, Kelly will host a public hearing for Unalaskans. It’s the last event before the federal Arctic Research Commission adjourns.
But the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will pick up from there. The state legislators and local stakeholders on the board will spend Wednesday afternoon taking public testimony before they go into a work session all day Thursday.
The goal of that session is to come up with a set of guiding principles for writing Arctic policy in the legislature.
The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will also be introducing its new executive director this week. Nikoosh Carlo is a neuroscientist by training, with roots in Alaska: She graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and she’s previously worked at the state legislature.
The Arctic meetings wrap up on Thursday night.